I have to say I think this is one that pretty much speaks for itself, but as it does keep getting more and more bizarre, here goes. This peculiar story has been bubbling away all this year in Sydney over one of Sydney University's (so-called) Catholic residences, St John's College.
The latest installment is that Cardinal Pell has stepped in to prevent the rector of the College being sacked for attempting to restore order in the place, by getting all of the priest members of the College's Council (and there were six of them) to resign. Under the College's constitution, this means it cannot make any decisions.
A fairly drastic, and unsatisfactory solution you would have to say!
Particularly when the Cardinal has had to ask the Premier of New South Wales to step in to reform the legislation that underpins the College's operation in order to achieve a real resolution of the problem.
How did it come to this?
The short version is that, according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, the student population of the college seem to think they are living in some nineteenth century English boarding school where second and third year students can terrorize 'freshers' through vile initiation rituals and enforcement of other petty rules and practices.
Things came to a head earlier in the year when a young woman nearly died after being allegedly forced to drink a vile concoction that included things she was severely allergic to by a group of thirty male louts as part of an 'initiation ritual'.
Attempts to discipline the group were overruled by a cabal of governing Council members (some did resign in protest. But most were reportedly more concerned about the future careers of the guilty students than about the safety of first year students); alumni (who have sought to defend the 'traditions' of the college against attempts to reform it); and the parents of the guilty, who took legal action to prevent their children being required to do community service and being barred from being office holders in the college.
Then this week it was revealed that not only had those involved escaped punishment, but several of them had been elected onto next year's internal House Committee that runs the college on a day-to-day basis. Meanwhile, the college has allegedly descended into anarchy.
It is hard to understand how this situation could have been allowed to continue, particularly when the governing council of the college includes six priests!
But the instinct to cover-up and even lie if necessary - whether in relation to child abuse, jockey's betting against themselves in horse races, doping in sport, or the sleazy politics of New South Wales being revealed by current corruption hearings - seems to be alive and well.
Indeed, the ABC's Lateline ran a story on the college featuring an interview with a student who stated that she was a freshman at the college and the claims being made were all untrue. Now it has been revealed that she was actually a third year student, and a member of the College's 'House Committee'...
There would appear to be nothing 'Catholic' whatsoever about this college. But then, that's true of most of our so-called Catholic institutions which have long since lost any genuine claim to the title.
A failure of leadership?
At the recent Synod on the New Evangelization, Cardinal Pell lamented the reluctance of bishops to speak up on issues of morality perhaps out of fear of the message being rejected and the political consequence thereof.
Well, he surely knows of what he speaks. This, after all, a diocese where 'Acceptance Masses' promoting the homosexual lifestyle have been allowed to continue, and more than a few priests continue to promote erroneous opinions over at places like acatholica and The Swag.
The Cardinal is, under the Act of the NSW Parliament that governs St John's its 'Visitor', an office which, on the face of it, has wide powers at law.
It is truly breathtaking that this particular situation has been allowed to continue and he has only stepped in to act when the story hit the media once again.
The Church in Australia is doomed unless our leaders put their own words into action.
For those who wish to read or watch the various articles and reports on which I am relying for this piece, here is a partial list:
- ABC 7.30 Report, 5/11/12
- ABC Lateline, 5/11/12
- ABC Lateline 6/11/12
- Sydney Morning Herald, 6/11/12
- SMH/ 7/11/12
And for those interested in the power of a 'Visitor', a few articles of interest:
- a review article from the Canterbury Law Review, 1982;
- a University of Melbourne Law Review article by Patty Kamvounias and Sally Varnaham, 2010 (it notes that the power of the University Visitor was rendered largely ceremonial in NSW in 1994, but the legislation involved did not amend the College's Act so far as I can find).